Guest Post – Making Theatre With Your Friends
Check out what Elizabeth Willow – emerging theatre-maker and past Rumble Student Ambassador – has to say about our most recent Living Room – Making Theatre With Your Friends.
If you’ve been working in Theatre for any amount of time, there’s a good chance you’ve run in to the following situation: you’re working on a project with your friends, and you have an argument, a falling out, or you simply struggle to keep your personal relationship healthy alongside your professional one. This was the impetus behind Rumble’s 3rd Living Room of the 16/17 season – “Making Theatre With Your Friends”. The guests that evening were Marcus Youssef of Neworld Theatre and James Long of Theatre Replacement, two friends and artists who created the critically acclaimed piece Winners and Losers together. The discussion was moderated by Chelsea Haberlin of Itsazoo Theatre, who runs said company with her husband.
In Vancouver’s tightly knit community, working professionally with one’s friends is inevitable. I myself produced a show with friends from theatre school this past fall, and am currently working on devising a show with much the same group. I was apprehensive about working with my friends at first, and spent time ruminating over all of the horror stories I had heard about friendships falling apart over creative differences. Tuesday’s Living Room helped me feel confident in my ability to protect the friendships that are so dear to me, while still relentlessly pursuing challenging, quality work. One of the first issues on the table was that most professional artistic relationships implode after around seven years. So, how do we prevent this? The conversation seemed to centre around two main ideas: establishing and being respectful of group dynamics, and protecting oneself as an individual and as an artist within a collective.
On the theme of group dynamics, one thing that was heavily stressed was the importance of setting clear boundaries, and maintaining values and rules that everyone feels invested in that will guide your work. Part of this is making sure that everyone feels empowered to play to their own strengths and take on the roles they are interested in. As such, Marcus spoke about the benefits of a “hierarchy”, knowing who is in charge of what, and openly acknowledging who has the power or control over the various aspects of your endeavour. This transparency, he said, makes communication much more efficient, and makes it easier to address issues when they do arise. James spoke about transparency in a different way, focusing on the need to find loving but clear ways to express to our co-creators how we really think and feel about the work. James also cited the importance of dealing with issues as they arise, and not attempting to sweep things under the rug that may look like minor annoyances at the time. He said the key to productive discussions about issues with co-creators is to speak from one’s own objective experience, and acknowledge that the other person may see the issue in question very differently. This feeds in to why it is so important to have clear boundaries, values, and rules as a group. If there are any transgressions, it helps to know exactly what has gone wrong and why, so that it can be discussed and resolved productively.
In terms of taking care of oneself as an individual artist within a collective, Chelsea was the first to bring up the value of following one’s own agenda, while honouring and allowing space for everyone’s artistic interests when possible. She also mentioned the importance of not feeling pressured to do everything together, as this avoids situations of having to shoe-horn yourself into other people’s ideas. Marcus went on to say that it is important to know whether the piece of work you are doing is more important than the friendship it is affecting, or vice versa. It is important to be open and honest with yourself when getting in to a working relationship with friends about whether you think those working relationships will be healthy, and if not, whether the work matters more to you than the relationships. However things don’t always go as planned, and as such the next thing Marcus touched on was how to frame the work in a way that gets you through the hard times: that no matter what, you are all on the same side, striving to produce good work together. James tacked on a piece of self care that most theatre artists tend to forget about – staying connected to the world outside the theatre. Our world has a tendency to suck us in, and our own artistic drives and the nature of our work very rarely allow us to come up for air. Taking the time to remind yourself that there is more to life, that being a theatre-maker is not all you are, can only be friendship saving. Not to mention what it can do for your sanity and your art!
At the end of the day, all you have to do is as yourself one simple question: “Is the work I am doing with my friends right now important to me?” If the answer to that question is “Yes!”, you’re int he right place. Keep on being open, honest, pulling your weight, and taking care of yourself. Remind yourself of my favourite thing Marcus said that evening: that as theatre artists we have a unique opportunity to manufacture joy in our lives. Who else can say that they get to go to work every day with their best friends? Aren’t we lucky indeed?